Restaurant Review: Lola’s

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Suzanne Cupps, the chef-owner of a new restaurant called Lola’s, in NoMad, may have learned her exceptional sense of restraint from the people she came up working under. Earlier in her career, she cooked at Annisa, Anita Lo’s exquisitely minimalist West Village spot. From there, she became a protégé of Michael Anthony, a true chef’s chef, working with him at two of the most polished establishments in Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, Gramercy Tavern and Untitled, the now closed restaurant at the Whitney Museum, where she eventually rose to the position of executive chef. At Lola’s, her cooking privileges subtlety over intensity. The menu features no TikTok bait, no superficial trickery. Spices are used to warm rather than to ignite. At a glance, the deceptively simple food on your plate might seem to verge on ho-hum. But it takes considerable skill to make an unshowy meal that still grabs a diner’s attention.

Naan is served alongside yogurt topped with sweet cooked carrots.

Cupps, wearing a Lola’s-branded trucker hat, is stationed each night at the border of the open kitchen, bringing the attention of a master craftsman to details of timing and technique. Pause to appreciate the sticky snap of trout roe against buttery Carolina Gold rice in the scallop-and-shiitake bowl, or the textural pizzazz of a pile of char-edged, nearly raw cabbage atop a floppy-soft cabbage pancake in the Union Square Bento, a trio of seasonal vegetable sides named in homage to the farmers’ market from which she sources most of her ingredients. Sometimes, alas, the food I sampled was actually a bit dull. Hunks of fried tilefish served on butter-lettuce leaves—essentially, tortilla-free fish tacos—were bland and forgettable. Littleneck clams, mixed with crabmeat and Old Bay seasoning and served in their shells, had all the vivacity of a suburban country club. But then another stunning dish would arrive, like Cupps’s beef tartare with black barley, in which the tender rubies of raw meat play second fiddle to the chewy, malty grains, bound together by gochujang vinaigrette and ribbons of ginger aioli. It was one of the most exciting tartares I’ve ever tried, a brilliant plate of food.

The scallop-and-shiitake bowl features the sticky snap of trout roe against buttery Carolina Gold rice.

Lola’s is named in honor of Cupps’s Filipina grandmother—lola is the Tagalog term for “grandma”—though on my visits the menu bore few overt Filipino touches, beyond a bright wisp of calamansi cutting through the clean, white sweetness of a potent gin gimlet. Cupps cooks from a pantry both global and placeless, with a motif of Southern flavors informed by her childhood in South Carolina. Crispy fried chicken thighs come with a mound of house-made pickles, tangy fermented honey, and a little bottle of coconut vinegar. Country ribs—a fatty, flavorful shoulder cut of pork—are served on skewers over a ladleful of white beans, and the piquant barbecue sauce with which they’re brushed has an oniony sweetness that gives them an unexpected but sort of wonderful hint of Ashkenazi brisket. The Lola’s space was previously occupied by a highbrow pizza joint, and Cupps has repurposed the built-in oven to fire blistery disks of naan, which are slicked with ghee and served alongside a dish of yogurt swirled with a delicate, brick-orange carrot masala sauce. You’d think a restaurant like this would have some sort of raw fish on the menu—if you have cane-backed barstools and terrazzo countertops in this town, it’s practically a legal requirement to serve hamachi crudo—but on my visits the only hint of such a thing appeared on the drinks list: the Leche de Tigre, a tart mezcal cocktail made with the bracing cilantro-jalapeño-onion flavors of fresh ceviche. (Cupps recently added a raw-fluke rice bowl, and the prophecy is fulfilled.)

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One particularly gratifying thing that Cupps has brought with her from her previous gigs is a welcoming, casual, truly friendly form of service. An unexpected highlight of all of my meals—eaten variously at the bar, in the dining room, and at a kitchen bar in the back, which is stacked nonchalantly with serving dishes, and offers a terrific view of the action—was interacting with the restaurant’s staff. They all seem to like one another, and to like the customers, and to like the idea of Lola’s. As I was finishing my dessert one evening—a gorgeously warm and gooey chocolate-chip cookie, made with buckwheat—a server conspiratorially praised me for finishing the little cup of tea-infused oat milk served alongside. It was just a bit tannic, perfect for dunking and sipping. “Sometimes people don’t even try it,” she said, shaking her head. “Their loss, right?” ♦


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